Possibly one of the more dangerous things you can do is challenge someone’s religious beliefs. If you doubt this simply take a look at the more extreme branches of the world’s major religions. Of course the ones that come to mind most readily are the Muslim extremist who will tolerate no debate about the interpretations of the Koran, or a Christian fundamentalist who declares that the King James version is the only anointed Word of God.
The following quote from Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D., Director of International Studies, Adrian College, MI, might help to show the difference between the moderate and extreme Muslims. “For moderate Muslims Ijtihad (The intellectual effort of Muslim jurists to reach independent religio-legal decisions, a key feature of modern Islamic reform; one who exercises ijtihad is a mujtahid; from the Britannica Encyclopedia) is the preferred method of choice for social and political change and military Jihad the last option. For militant Muslims, military Jihad is the first option and Ijtihad is not an option at all. I believe that moderate Muslims are different from militant Muslims even though both of them advocate the establishment of societies whose organizing principle is Islam. The difference between moderate and militant Muslims is in their methodological orientation and in the primordial normative preferences which shape their interpretation of Islam.” (Khan)
Jared (Jerry) Seay of Charleston College has this to say about the “KJV only” Christian fundamentalists, “Christian fundamentalists interpret the Bible as the inerrant, factual, and literal word of God. Though each of these terms can be argued as to what exactly the terms mean, it is in any case clear that fundamentalism rejects any modernist critical interpretation of the Bible. They reject most modern scientific findings in biology and geology, or at least greatly reinterpret them to “fit” their view of the Bible. Most believe, for example, that the world was created in seven 24 hour days simply because that is what the Genesis account says. Most fundamentalist also believe that the earth (and the universe) is no more than a few (less than ten) thousand years old based on the genealogies in the Bible. Any findings by science that seem to refute this argument are simply discarded and seen to be ”obviously wrong” since it disagrees with the Bible. In other words, “if it disagrees with the Bible (the fundamentalist view of the Bible), then it is wrong and probably straight from Satan.” It must be stated for the record that there are differing levels or versions of fundamentalist belief. Some fundamentalists, for example, believe that the Genesis account allows for so the called”day – age” interpretation, in which the days of creation are actually unknown periods of time. Even such “liberal” fundamentalists, however, believe that everything written about in the Bible is an accurate reporting of actual historical events. This “literal” interpretation of the Bible is very dear to fundamentalist to the extent that most believe that anyone who does not accept this “literal” interpretation are not true Christians. Many “hard core” fundamentalist even believe that anyone who does not use the King James (1611) version of the Bible is destined for Hell. (Seay)
On the other side there are those who deny validity to any claim of spiritual experience and look on sacred or religious writings with scorn, a hiding place for the ignorant who do not understand the “realities” of life. I found this article by Kenton Anderson to be enlightening; “I read a particularly intelligent response to Richard Dawkins’ fundamentalist atheism in my morning newspaper. Margaret Somerville is becoming as a critic of Dawkins, partly because she doesn’t seem to be coming from a Christian perspective. As founding director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University (Montreal) she brings a credible academic pedigree and a reasoned voice to the debate. While I think that an avowed Christian voice could say a little more, I think that her approach is telling. Somerville makes a number of points, including the charge that Dawkins “confuses religion and the use of religion.” Just as science can be used for good or for evil, so can religion. “Dawkins,” she writes, “looks only at the evil uses of religion – never the good it affects – and only the good uses of science – never the harm it does.” “Dawkins basic presumption,” she says, “is that there is no God and, therefore, that those who believe there is must prove it. The equally valid basic presumption is that there is a God and those who don’t believe that must prove it. Because neither basic presumption can be proved or disproved, both are tenable and, therefore, both must be accommodated in a secular society.” “We should stop automatically associating having liberal secular values with being open minded and having conservative religious values with being closed minded – liberal people can be very closed minded and conservative people open minded.” (Anderson)
The question of whether or scriptures such as the Old Testament are divinely inspired or simply literature can never be resolved except on a personal level. However, in either case, whether you believe that the Old Testament is the word of God or simply a collection of writings gathered over centuries, an understanding of how these works to were developed and compiled are a necessary part of intellectual honesty. No matter which side of the fence you are on there should be no fear in discovering the historicity of the Bible, or for that matter any other document. This chapter, the Process of Formation, gives a greater understanding of how the books of the Old Testament were developed and compiled. I do not find it odd that there are similarities between the books of the Old Testament and other ancient documents. If they are simply recounting of the history of a people, one that covers many years, and if their historical accounts are accurate then I would expect to find other writings from other people that bear similarities to the biblical accounts. Since these accounts refer to other peoples I would find it odd if there were not writings from other societies that recounted like events. If it were divinely inspired I would expect there to be correlations with other writings from other societies, since one would expect divinely inspired truths to be universal. Indeed, the scholar and author C. S. Lewis makes this point in an appendix to his book The Abolition of Man. This appendix, Illustrations of the Tao, lists several examples of the similarities between the moral frameworks of vastly different societies. For an example look at the similarities of the following statements: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against neighbor”, Ancient Jewish; “Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded”, Hindu; “Speak kindness… Show goodwill”, Babylonian; “Man is man’s delight”, Old Norse. (Lewis)
If you are a firm believer in the position you hold, either the Old Testament is divinely inspired or it is not, then knowledge of how it was formed will probably not change your views. But it should give you an understanding of how such a monumental work came into being. But, if you are like me, on the fence, then an understanding of the evolution of the Old Testament will perhaps give you an insight into the deeper meanings of the Scriptures.
Anderson, Kenton. Fundamentalist Atheists. Langley, Canada: Northwest Baptist Seminary, 2007. Dean and Professor of Homiletics, Northwest Baptist Seminary, Langley, BC Canada. Web. 9 Sept. 2010. .
Khan, Muqtedar. Who are the “moderate Muslims”? N.p.: n.p., n.d. Director of International Studies, Adrian College, MI. Web. 9 Sept. 2010. .
Lewis, Clive S. The Abolition of Man. New York: Macmillan, 1970. 97-98. Print.
Seay, Jared A. Christian Fundamentalism. N.p.: n.p., 1998. Librarian II / Assistant Professor, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina. Web. 9 Sept. 2010. .